Using Visual Metaphors to Assess Commitment Level

 Hi Ted!

Hi Ted!

As part of the EFT Lab, we get the option of a study buddy. My study buddy is the wonderful Ted, and once a week we chat via skype about what we’re learning. Isn’t the EFT community so amazing? The support is pretty incredible. And once a week I get to experience warm, validating camaraderie all the way from Canada on my computer screen.

This week Ted and I were talking about using visual metaphors to help explore difficult topics with our clients, and Ted shared one so great I had to share it with you all. He said he heard it from another EFT therapist, so we’re continuing the sharing here. 

One of the tough questions for me in initial sessions is about a client’s commitment level. Typically, we ask this either on their intake paperwork, or in person, on a numbered scale. Like, if 0 is totally out of the relationship and 10 is totally committed to the relationship, identify which number you are. I can feel clunky asking this question because it’s so hard to actually gauge the client’s experience. I’ve had people who seem completely checked out say they are an 8 out of 10, highly committed. I’ve had people who I really hear deep attachment from say they are a 2 out of 10, barely committed. One of the difficult aspects of using a linear way to ask this question is that the client’s feelings might be changing daily, or weekly. They also may not be as in touch with their attachment or ambivalence as we would hope.

Ted’s suggestion was to ask the client about their commitment level using the visual of a room, even the therapy room. He asks something like, “If the door is the exit, leaving the relationship, and sitting here on the couch is totally committed, where do you feel you are right now?” And he can go into all different types of nuance with this metaphor. Do they sometimes feel like they are looking out the window, into a different life? Do they feel like they are mostly committed but sometimes want to sprint for the door when their partner does xyz? Does the room feel dark, heavy? Does it feel light and hopeful? Do they have an affair partner in the closet, who they don’t want to come out but whom they miss, and find themselves wanting to check in on?

The Room of Commitment

 

(different from The Room of Requirement, for any Harry Potter fans)

I mean, are you as impressed as I am with this metaphor? Think of the richness of what you would hear from a client with these different scenarios:

Scenario #1

Me: On a scale of 0-10, 10 being the most committed, what number do you feel like you are at right now with the relationship?

Withdrawer: A 6. I’m willing to give this a try but we haven’t gotten along in a long time.

 

Scenario #2

Me: If this room were a metaphor for how committed you feel towards the relationship, and the door is the exit, you’re on the way out, where would you say you are?

Withdrawer: Hmmm, I feel like I’ve got my hand on the doorknob. I keep looking back at her, seeing if she’ll stop being so upset with me, but it never changes. Over the years I’ve moved closer and closer to the door. I don’t want to walk through it, but I also don’t know how to come back in the room.

 

The visual metaphor makes it much harder for the client to answer linearly. Anywhere they point to in the room, the therapist now has a much easier way to expand and clarify. “Oh, you’re kind of along the wall? Tell me more about that, is that like trying to stay safe?”

I’m excited to try this with my more ambivalent clients. Since I see a lot of dating clients, where the attachment is not as alive sometimes as my married clients, I think I’ll be using this frequently. When Ted shared this with me I felt some despair, thinking, I wish I had used this during some of my individual sessions that have now passed! But Ted reminded me I can use this in a couples session, maybe even as a safer way to talk about a client’s already expressed ambivalence, where they have partially detached and it’s clear to both parties but still very hard to talk about.

Thank you, Ted, for sharing this wonderful metaphor with us! Do you all have a favorite visual metaphor for tricky questions or moments in the process? Share in the comments below!